In February, we shared the story of Dr. Rosalin Miles and her experience as a new Band Administrator negotiating the MTSA process. She gave some great insights into what First Nation Band Administrators should know before reviewing their service agreements. This month, we take a different approach: thinking from your service provider’s perspective. We did some digging and found five things municipalities think about when considering service agreements. Knowing what your service partner’s needs and concerns are can help frame a more positive conversation about services, and clarify some common misunderstandings around service agreements.
- Long range planning is key to sharing services. Can a municipality provide services beyond their boundary? Most likely, it depends on whether or not they planned for it. Municipalities develop long-range planning documents called Official Community Plans (OCPs) which outline how land will be used and where growth will occur. Supporting the OCP are master plans for each of their main services. These documents can cover decades but are usually updated every five years or so. If a municipality has not anticipated providing services beyond its boundaries in the OCP or servicing master plans, it is unlikely that they have the capacity to add neighbouring communities to their system.
What does this mean for First Nation partners? If your First Nation is thinking about services and the needs of your community are changing, talk to your service partner or potential service partner! This is especially true if you know that your service partner is in the process of updating their OCP or servicing master plans. Starting these conversations early can ensure that the service provider can anticipate your Nation’s need as they plan their systems.
On the other side of things, if your First Nation is working on its own land use planning, make sure to think about what services will be needed to meet the needs of growth on reserve. Engaging your service partner during the land use planning process can help ensure that growth in your community is met with adequate services.
- Current versus future capacity. Sometimes it looks like a municipality has capacity in their system for additional users but new service agreements still require infrastructure upgrades. This is because that capacity may have been built to service growth within the municipal boundary. The community has invested in and built infrastructure to service development that may not come for years. Even though there may be capacity in the short-term, adding too many additional users while growth is expected can put the system at risk over the long term.
- Partnership is about more than just service agreements. You don’t need a service agreement to work with local government neighbours or benefit from knowledge sharing. Most municipalities have full-time staff with a ton of knowledge and expertise in operating infrastructure. If your First Nation needs support, there may be opportunities to collaborate on operations and maintenance even if service agreements are not in place. This could help provide valuable training and knowledge sharing between municipal and First Nation staff. It can also lay the groundwork for future collaboration and service agreements.
- Recovering costs is important to municipalities. Costs for providing utilities such as water and sewer are paid for through user fees and other cost recovery mechanisms. Prudent municipalities will aim to recover the full cost of the service through these fees, or through mechanisms for recovering costs from growth. For example, if a developer is building a new subdivision, there will be a need to build expensive infrastructure to provide services to new homes. Municipalities can use a type of fee called Development Cost Charges (DCCs) to fund the new infrastructure. However, in the case of extending services beyond the municipal boundary, a municipality cannot use these familiar tools for recovering costs. If infrastructure upgrades are required to extend services to a First Nation, the service partners will have to negotiate how these costs are paid for.
- First Nation control over land use. Service agreements can sometimes seem strict. Some First Nations may feel that their service partner is trying to control where and how fast they grow. However, the primary issue for municipalities is the need to have certainty over where services are being delivered. Connected to our first point, municipalities plan land use and services far in advance. They don’t like surprises! Unpredictable development and growth can make your service partner nervous because they have to ensure their infrastructure has the capacity to take on each new connection. These concerns show how necessary it is to have regular conversations about growth and development. If a new development may impact service infrastructure, share this information early on. If your First Nation is uncertain about growth, or finds it hard to plan or predict land uses, consider this uncertainty in your service agreement. Being upfront about these concerns can go a long way in coming to an agreement that works for both service partners.
MTSAs are complex and require significant collaboration between First Nation and municipal partners. In this blog post, we consider five things that municipalities are thinking about. Are there other things you’d like to know about your service partner’s perspective in MTSAs? Ask us through Facebook or Twitter!